56 stories in 56 days – The Man with the Twisted Lip

I have used the story of Mr Neville St. Clair, the faux beggar, extensively in my own novel, writes Charlotte Anne Walters.

And I can remember exactly the moment at which the idea came to me to intertwine the two tales.  I was on my honeymoon sitting by the beautiful infinity pool at a lovely hotel on a tranquil Greek Island, writing pad in hand as always.  Without giving away too much about the plot, I was basically playing around with the idea of Professor Moriarty ordering his henchmen to snatch beggars from the city streets.  Who would miss a lonely old beggar?  Who would even notice he had gone?  But then the idea struck me, what if the person wasn’t really a beggar at all but actually in disguise?  What if he did have a concerned family who would contact Holmes for help – drawing him into the crime which would ultimately put him onto a collision course with my protagonist?  Perfect.

I reached into my beach-bag for the ever present Penguin Complete Sherlock Holmes and re-read The Man with The Twisted Lip then celebrated my brainwave with a lovely Greek salad while looking out to sea.

Upon re-reading the story today it’s hard to put my own story aside and just comment on the original.  It’s just that it proved to be so pivotal in my own tale and such a perfect example of what I wanted to do with Barefoot – intertwine the original stories with my own in a sensitive and imaginative way without simply trying to re-create Doyle’s style but instead using this as inspiration to create something which both new and existing Holmes fans would love.

It seems like such a long time ago (I’ve been married four years now) when I had that moment of inspiration beside the infinity pool (incidentally it was the best hotel pool I’ve ever had the pleasure to lie next to).  I had no idea how much hard work lay ahead to actually finish my novel but was full of hope and optimism that I could change my life and achieve my dream of becoming a bestselling author.

Anyway, apologies for the serious digression and back to the story.

What is going on between Sherlock Holmes and Mrs Neville St. Clair?  There is something very odd about this one.  When Watson goes to rescue his patient from the opium den and finds Holmes inside, they leave together and Holmes asks Watson to accompany him as he investigates his latest case, casually pointing out that his room ‘at the Cedars is a double-bedded one’.  ‘The Cedars?’ asks Watson, perplexed.  ‘Yes; that is Mr St Clair’s house.  I am staying there while I conduct the inquiry’.  This presents various points of interest from the casual way he refers to her home to the issue of why he needs to be there in the first place.

The Cedars is in Lee, Kent, and perfectly commutable from London.  Mrs St Claire isn’t in any danger, the house is not the scene of the crime, the man disappeared in the city not at home, so why on earth is Holmes staying there in a double bedded room – and why does Mrs St Clair answer the door to him wearing a ‘mousseline-de-soie with a touch of fluffy pink chiffon at her neck and wrists’?  Good God it’s like ‘Carry on Detecting’.

Other points of interest are the fact that Holmes is more than happy to share his room with Watson (though not the bed) and this shows the extent to which he feels comfortable with him.  This is also the story in which he talks of Watson’s ‘Grand gift of silence’ which makes him ‘Quite invaluable as a companion’.   The Man with the Twisted Lip clearly, and rather touchingly, demonstrates the depth of their friendship.

Fluffy pink chiffon aside, the most unusual thing about this tale is the fact that Dr John H Watson suddenly becomes James – according to his wife.

I really enjoyed re-reading this story – as much for the comedic value and personal memories as anything – and will happily score it a hilarious 8 out of 10.

Agree with me? Post your own review below.

My novel Barefoot on Baker Street was published this week. Here are some of the ways you can purchase it.

You can order my book in America here.

You can purchase the American Kindle version here

You can order my book in the UK here.

You can purchase the UK Kindle version here.

About barefootonbakerstreet

Author from Shropshire
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2 Responses to 56 stories in 56 days – The Man with the Twisted Lip

  1. It is, as you say, a comedic story, in that it has a happy ending, and no one comes to any great harm. The power of Holmes’s intellect sees through delusion, wrongs are righted, and everyone lives happily ever after. We like the people in the story, and we wish them well. So what you did with these characters in your book was quite upsetting to me. Why not leave them to live out their days peacefully in their little villa at Lee?

    More generally, there is an awful lot of violence and death in your book — and your heroine seems weirdly uncaring about most of it, as if it’s not quite real to her. I think of her shooting that man in the second chapter — a man that she doesn’t dislike, and who isn’t threatening her — without a moment’s hesitation or a twinge of remorse. That’s the action of a psychopath, surely?

    Still: lots of people like ultra-violent entertainment, as the popularity of “Inglourious Basterds” — or indeed, “Titus Andronicus”, shows. Some of my friends play video-games which are endless, graphic, killing-sprees, and seemingly enjoy them a great deal, and are still nice, sensible people for all that. So perhaps it’s just a matter of personal taste.

    Conan Doyle was generally more restrained in his use of fictional violence. There is generally only a little of it in his stories, and it matters: he makes us care about it. My taste is more for that way of doing things.

    One might say that the Scowrers, in “The Valley of Fear”, are rather Tarantino-ish, and I’d agree. But I didn’t enjoy that part of “The Valley of Fear”, either. A matter of taste, I’m sure.

    • There is only violence in the first half of my novel, as it is in the life of my character. I wanted to show more of the harsh realities of Victorian England, the workhouse, the street gangs, the treatment of prostitutes, rather than paint a ‘rosy glow’. But as you follow Red on her journey, you understand her deeper emotions and the damage produced by a childhood of poverty and abuse. You see her show love, tenderness and should understand her desire for motherhood – a dominating factor in her life. When she commits the murder in chapter two which you mention, she is just following Moriarty’s orders, working on auto-pilot, slipped back into the apathy she felt in the workhouse. She is damaged, but also highly complex and having read about her pivotal childhood experience in the workhouse her violence can be put into a context – not excused and indeed she never asks for forgiveness, but understood. She lives out the rest of her life in a very different way to the start, grows up, matures, learns to love and forgive. And for Sherlock Holmes to love after living 40 odd years without it, I needed to create someone extrodinary to capture his heart, someone as complex as he is, someone unconventional. I have made brave decisions in Barefoot, not taken lightly and certainly not without great thought and care -it did take 7 years after all. But, as you say, it is a matter of personal taste.

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